Japanese fiction translation: “Final Days of Summer” by “Masaki Hashiba” [Story 1 / Part 3]

By | March 28, 2017

This is the English translation of the third part (of four) of the first story (“Stargazer”) of the series of short stories titled “Final Days of Summer” (残夏)  by Masaki Hashiba (ハシバ柾). I’ve gotten permission from the author to translate and put these on my blog, and he is very excited about his work being translated to English.

As always, since I have many other competing translation projects, any feedback on this story will help me decide where to focus my energies. You can vote for this story on my survey here, or even better you can leave a comment on this post, or like it. I’ve received some positive comments from a few people, and the more of this feedback I get the better odds I’ll keep translating it. So if you like the story so far, please consider telling a friend (:

Thanks to Nijima Melodiam for proofreading this chapter.

This page contains this work’s synopsis and other translated portions. You can see the entire first short story in its original Japanese here.

Story 1: Stargazer (Part 3)

It was the fifth night I spent with Nameless–two days before the meteor shower.

The sky was shrouded in thick clouds. Nameless sat in his usual place near the rocks, gazing up into the night sky at stars barely visible through the cloud cover. It might rain tomorrow. This worried me, but I decided against voicing my concern to him.

After staring at the overcast sky for some time, Nameless suddenly broke out giggling.

“What’s with you?”

“Oh, nothing really. I was just thinking about how a giant star–a whale–had taken a big bite out of the moon……”

Thus began another of his fantastic tales.

According to him, all forms of life eventually shed their physical bodies and returned to the sky as stars. Irrespective of how they acted during their lifetime, they all ended up adrift in the night sky–large beings as large stars and small beings as small ones–waiting for their turn to circle the Moon, finally have their life judged, and fall once again to the Earth in the form of a shell.

However, it is said that all beings feel the irresistible charm of the Mother Moon, both during their lifetime and after they have become stars. Giving into this temptation is considered the most reprehensible act in all of the night sky, although the intensity of the temptation is far stronger than any fear of spending time on Earth as a plain, unattractive shell. The majority of small stars never even have an opportunity to come in contact with the moon, but it is rumored the massively large ones–the ‘whale’ stars–can. Whale stars that cannot bear this temptation sooner or later take a large bite out of the Moon.

“But, you see,“ Nameless continued, “those stars whine about not wanting to become unattractive shells. So they summon all their energy and spray water from their blowholes to hide the moon, hoping to prevent their wrongdoing from being discovered. That is the reason those clouds are there.”

I nodded from Nameless’s side and looked up at the thick clouds.

Was the whale on the other side of the clouds trembling in fear of being caught? Or was he gazing at us with a smug look on his face? In any case, from this far away there was little hope in telling which.

“Humans say that the sky is infinite. However, we believe differently. Rather, the sky is nothing more than an ocean where stars float, and our world is finite.”

Nameless said this with a grin, eyes fixed on me. He didn’t seem to include himself in the category of ‘humans’; this was probably because he considered himself a ‘dolphin’.

Assuming the sky really is a giant ocean, is the bottom of that ocean on the other side of the sky? If the sky ends there and the world we live in is enclosed like the room of a house, where would things like weather satellites go? Wouldn’t rockets just bump into the walls of this ‘room’?

Nameless continued, his eyes still fixed on me. It seems as if my face had betrayed my doubts.

“But, you know, the place where the stars live is very, very far from here. Anything made by human hands could never possibly reach the end of the sky. That’s why humans are convinced it is infinite.”

So, apparently at the limits of the place we call the ‘universe’, farther away than any human can reach, exists a so-called ‘ocean’. Indeed, if the star of a lost loved one was within our reach, we would do anything to get them back. Perhaps the absolute impossibility of this is the very reason we fear death, the parting with another whom will we never cross paths with again.

A large, dark cloud–the spray of a whale, according to Nameless–gradually expanded across the night sky, and before long almost completely obscured the stars.

I said it would rain tomorrow, and Nameless responded with a nod. Hopefully this would at least keep him from hazarding a trip back to this beach the middle of a rainstorm. To be honest, I wanted to just carry Nameless, unable to walk on his own, back to my home. Tomorrow night we could just come back here together. But I’m sure he wouldn’t accept that; no matter what I said, he’d evade by rattling off something about dolphins again.

So I went home before the downpour began. Of course, Nameless remained behind on the beach, all alone.

……

The storm ended up being much longer than I’d expected. Starting the night before, it continued all through the morning, and by partway through the evening there was still no sign of it letting up. I realized I probably wouldn’t be able to make it to the beach today. It was all the fault of that troublesome whale. Couldn’t he take responsibility for taking a bite out of the moon without inconveniencing others? As I thought about these things, I felt a wave of loneliness wash over me. I wasn’t going to be able to see Nameless tonight.

My ears were tickled by the constant sound of rushing rain that was oblivious to my worries. I sighed; the cleaning I had planned on doing until the rain let up had begun to extend to places I normally never even touched. After digging out a few old photo albums from a dust-covered bookshelf, I finally stopped to take a break.

There was four yearbooks, and around ten photo albums put together by my mother. As I flipped through them in chronological order I had a strange realization. These pictures didn’t actually tell me anything about how I had managed to grow up.

The album closest to me on the bookshelf contained every single picture I’d sent her recently; looking at it, I felt a growing warmth in my chest. No matter how far away I was, my mother was always thinking about me. And yet, I never……

On the last page of this most recent album was a single picture. It was a photograph of me smiling that I’d sent along with a letter, right around the time I was overjoyed to be appointed a project manager. But once this little vacation is over, I have no desire to return to that company, even though I was so close to success. Even though I thought I finally had it all.

But where would I go then? Unable to close the album, I stared down with bitter regret at the picture of my past self–where everything was going right.

If Nameless was in the same situation, what would he say? Just as I began to consider that, a notebook suddenly fell out from between the pages of one of the older albums.

The notebook was surprisingly heavy. Small and yellowed with age, it appeared to be a journal. On the cover was scribbled “Nao’s journal. Mom don’t read!” I didn’t remember ever seeing this though…….With a trembling hand I opened it, a book containing my memories–or perhaps I should say my secrets.

I immediately understood why the book was so heavy: every page had an actual shell glued to it. Accompanying each of the colorful shells was a drawing done with colored pencils and some awkwardly scribbled comments. Some pages had dates, others didn’t. I got the impression these were written just for the fun of it, as opposed to being a serious record of anything.

As I flipped through the pages the memories gradually returned to me, and I was overcome with feelings of nostalgia. This journal captured my days as a young boy playing on that very same beach. Each day I had apparently selected my favorite shell and attached it to a page where I drew a picture of the beach. When I looked at these drawings, pitifully bad by any standard, I burst out laughing in spite of myself. I could just see myself as a young boy engrossed in drawing these pictures. Flipping through them, I saw pictures of beaches, more beaches, even more beaches, and……a dolphin.

A dolphin? Curious, I stopped at that page.

From a certain day onwards, drawings of dolphins took the place of drawings of the beach. There were several comments, such as “Many dolphins were here today.” Growing even more curious, I flipped a few pages ahead. Dolphins. Dolphins. Dolphins……For seven pages straight there was nothing but drawings of dolphins. At the last of these, the journal suddenly ended.

Playing at that beach, picking up shells–I had faint, but definite memories of these. However, seeing a dolphin in person……this would surely have been a memorable event, and yet I couldn’t remember anything about that, the existence of a group of dolphins that appeared for a week straight, or why I had suddenly stopped writing this journal.

What an unbelievable coincidence. I thought back to Nameless’s tales.

He’d said, “the dolphins start waiting for the meteor shower a week in advance”. Could it be that the last entry in the journal corresponded to the day of the meteor shower? For the six days leading up to it, I had spent time with the dolphins, and then on the day of the meteor shower something had happened?

“‘Naoyuki’…Wait, did you say ‘Naoyuki’?”

That first night, the strange way Nameless responded when I told him my name……The sound of the waves, ringing in my ears……The journal fell to the floor, my hands suddenly weak.

I felt some part of myself–the part rediscovered by Nameless that adored all things imaginary–was trying to urgently tell me something. The very same person who had written that journal had watched the stars with Nameless. Of course, I had no memory of that, but if it was true……Unable to restrain myself, I ran towards that beach while shielding my face from the rain that pelted me like rocks, using my other hand to tightly squeeze my chest where my heart throbbed furiously within.

Nonetheless, I knew there was no way he would be waiting there, in middle of a rainstorm. I stopped at the entrance of the beach, a modicum of sense finally beaten back into me by the rain. The sea was blurred from the downpour so I couldn’t even tell if the dolphins were there or not.

But I hadn’t come all the way here for nothing; there was something I needed to know. Unable to take it any longer, I called out for Nameless towards the rough sea–knowing full well there would be no reply.

What I heard in return was not empty silence but a familiar voice.

“Naoyuki? If you’re looking for me, I’m over here. It’s still too early for me to return to the sea.”

But why…..I hurried down the beach towards the sea and looked near the rocks. The owner of the voice–Nameless–lied there in his usual posture, “waiting for the stars.” He was soaked from head to toe, unkempt hair dripping wet.

“I told you, ‘the dolphins start waiting for the meteor shower a week in advance,’ right?”

He said this without even making an attempt to wipe his drenched cheeks. Something about his expression made me feel sorry for him, caught in the rain in wait of the stars; it was almost as if he was trying to embody his own words. I began to see him in a completely new light.

“You know, I think I might have met you before, long ago.”

Hearing this, he looked up at me slowly, as if exhausted. I took Nameless’s awkward grin as a silent acknowledgement.

I was right–we had met before when I was young. And yet, I had no memory if it. It pained me to see his lonesome face.

“For some reason, I just can’t seem to remember anything: about you, about the time we spent together, or about whatever happened the day of the meteor shower. I’m sure that we spent those days together, and yet……”

I paused mid-sentence and looked at Nameless, his eyes downcast as if all hope was lost, when I suddenly realized something.

Nameless had shown no indication he knew me since that first night when we met, almost a week ago. He hadn’t tried to get me to remember our encounter many years ago. That was most certainly because he knew that I had no memory of him. But that means……

“……I’ll forget everything?”

He nodded ever so slightly, still looking into the distance.

It would all disappear. All the memories of these seven days I spent at this beach together with Nameless and the dolphins would eventually vanish from my mind without a trace, just like they had when when I was young.

“That means that I’ll forget that we talked together like this, looked up at the stars, played in the shallow water, and even all the stories you’ve told me. I’ll forget……every single thing that happened during these days.”

He nodded once more.

The rain seemed to be trying to bore tiny holes into my shoulders as I stood there, dejectedly.

I’ll forget everything. Spending time with Nameless, seeing the dolphins, stories about the stars becoming shells and falling to the ground, a whale taking a bite out of the moon, and how the sky is actually a sea that ends somewhere far, far away. These memories will all be lost, without even a tiny fragment remaining. And I won’t even realize that I’ve lost them.

“This year, I think some particularly beautiful stars will be falling……Do you want to watch them with me?”

Nameless smiled at my motionless form, despite knowing I’d eventually forget everything.

“Don’t worry, Naoyuki. I’m so happy that you came again today to see me. I was hoping to watch the stars with you once more.”

Unable to get any words out, I sat down next to him. The sand was soggy and under normal conditions would have been uncomfortable, but as my entire body was drenched it didn’t bother me much. Even at a time like this, Nameless did what he always did–gazed up into the overcast sky.

Tomorrow was the day he had waited for patiently–the day of the meteor shower. Would Nameless make good on his claim of being a dolphin and return to the sea after finding a beautiful shell? I had no idea what would happen, though I somehow knew that tomorrow would be our last day together. I didn’t have any tangible proof, just a feeling.

I took his hand and held it tightly in mine. The tips of his fingers were nearly frozen from the rain, but there was a definite pulse. Even this sensation I would forget before long.

“Naoyuki, don’t be so sad.”

Nameless squeezed my hand in return and closed his eyes.

“Don’t worry. I’ll remember. Even if you lose every last memory, I’ll remember everything. Someday, it may be many years from now……just follow that which guides you and return here.”

On that day, we will meet again, for the first time. Over and over, we will repeat these seven days–until you lose sight of this place once and for all, until even that which guides you disappears.

My heart overflowed at his words, as if the floodgates had burst open.

But I don’t want to forget……returning to this beach again, all of Nameless’s words, their warmth……I don’t want to forget any of these.

“I won’t forget. I won’t let that happen. I’ll wait with you for the meteor shower again next year while we tell crazy tales in the pouring rain. I promise to come back here next summer, no matter what.”

Still gripping my hand, Nameless blinked. His expression softened and he replied simply, “I’ll be waiting.” Hearing these words, weak and yet certain, I felt my chest tighten.

We huddled up close together to brave the storm, which ended up lasting all night. But never, even for a moment, did I consider going home. For I knew that our time together was nearly over.

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